Asphyxiate

Anxiety is love's great killer.

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2. Chapter One


Two o'clock in the morning was not the time to be out throwing pebbles at his ex-girlfriend's bedroom window, but that hadn't stopped Lawrence Henton. Standing in the shadows, he flung another stone in a lopsided arc towards the dark window pane, both hope and frustration curling at his lip. He was desperate. This was his only chance.

She needed him, and he could not mess this up. 

Anja Corditt frowned as a stone cracked against her window. Shrugging the duvet off, she clambered out of bed and walked to the window, blearily rubbing her eyes. The room was dark, and even when she yanked the curtains open, she saw only a thin trail of moonlight illuminating her street. 
From where she stood, she could make out only the inky silhouette of a figure standing on her driveway, but she knew it was him all the same. Lawrence. Her Lawrence. 

He threw another stone, this one shaking the glass. If it broke, she'd have a lot of explaining to do in the morning - explaining she did not need. 

Sliding the window up, she leant forward into the night air. It was cold outside, so cold her body shuddered, clad in flimsy pyjamas. Anja took a deep breath, clenching her fists. 

"For God's sake, stop throwing stones!" she hissed, as Lawrence stepped into the light of her porch. "You're going to break my window!" 

Lawrence clutched at his heart dramatically, pulling a face at her. "Does it matter?" he said, his voice carefully light, his tone almost joking. "You've already broken my heart!" 

Anja frowned at him, turning away from the window. Didn't he understand that she couldn't handle this right now? She threw her hands up in exasperation, hugging her body close. 

"Just explain, An! Please?" Lawrence called, shaking his hair from his eyes. "You can't just break up by text without even telling me why!" His voice was so loud against the still of the night that it made Anja wince; her family were asleep, and it was the least she could do not to wake them up. Her step-sister, Ida, was travelling to Oxford the next day to give a lecture at the university - the journey would be tiring, and take at least four hours. 

Anja's phone beeped, the screen flashing Lawrence's name at her. She rolled her eyes, picking it up from her bedside table and flicking the volume down to mute. 

'Come outside,' said the text, 'and I will show you why you need me.' 

Anja turned back to Lawrence, her lips tight. 

"Look, just...just give me a minute, okay?" she whispered, ducking back under the frame. As quietly as she could manage, she pulled on her slippers, wishing their pattern of pink stars wasn't quite so childish. 

After wrapping herself in her dressing gown, she slipped out of her bedroom and tiptoed down the stairs, wincing at every creak and crunch of the staircase. 

If she woke her family, they wouldn't be on speaking terms for the next week. She had exams coming up, and Anja had been staying up revising till well past midnight every night. Recently, her step-dad had come up with a theory that the constant late nights were why she always felt so terrible in the morning, and given her a set bed time of ten p.m that made her feel like she was twelve years old again. 

Anja opened her front door, shutting it slowly behind her. The night was black, and she felt Lawrence before she saw him, his hand moving to hold hers. 

"Anja," he said. "Anja..." He trailed off, using confusion and pain and the strange adrenaline that comes with throwing pebbles at two in the morning to pull Anja away from her house and further into the street. 

Lawrence took a flower from his pocket, sliding it behind Anja's ear. Normally her hair was dark and sleek, but at this time of the night it looked tangled and knotted, but Lawrence didn't care. Lawrence loved Anja all the time, whatever the time, no matter how she looked or what she wore or what she said. 

He loved her. And most of the time, that feeling was so overwhelming that it scared him. 

"Thanks,' she whispered, her voice hushed. Anja's hand closed over the rose behind her ear, stroking her fingers over the petals in an exhausted sort of fascination. 

Lawrence wished they could stand there forever. Just the two of them, with only each other and the stars for company. It was peaceful, and perfect, and he knew how precious the moment was. 

He furrowed his brow, gazing at Anja. "I don't understand though - seriously, An. Why? Why would you break up with me - you haven't given me a reason; you haven't told me why!" He paused, his tongue flicking across his upper lip nervously. "We were happy together - weren't we? And...we need each other." 

Anja looked up at him, her eyes wide but unafraid. She shook her head. "What are we doing, Lawrence?" Her voice was soft, a reedy whisper that somehow vibrated with certainty all the same. "What are you doing here?" She laughed, the sound off-key and unhappy. "I'm meant to be asleep. I'm...I'm tired." 

"I-" His voice crumpled, his face scrunching up. "Honestly, I love you, Anja. I'm not just saying that because I like the sound of the words, I'm saying that because it's true. I mean...I mean, I can imagine myself growing old with you, Anja. I can imagine us together for the rest of our lives - and, and -"

She cut him off, shaking her head. "No! Stop it!" Anja spat, pulling her hand away from his. "Shut up, Lawrence. Shut up! I don't want to hear it, and you don't...you don't know what you're saying, and...and if you did, you wouldn't believe it either!" 

"Anja, stop! Think about this, just for a second. I don't even know if you know why you're doing this!"

She crossed her arms, her mouth hardening. "You're a distraction, Lawrence. I - I really, really like you, sure. But you're still a distraction, and that means I can't be with you, at least not until exams are over."

Lawrence rolled his eyes, his voice louder, sharpened by hurt. "This is about exams again, then? You're doing fine, Anja! You study all the time - I mean, the only time you're not revising is when you're with me or the others! You can't waste your life worrying about exams - you'll walk them. You'll find them easy, and you'll wonder why you 'needed' to break up with me to pass them!"

Gritting her teeth, Anja closed her eyes. In her mind, she could imagine herself asleep in her bed. If she tried hard enough, she could fool herself into thinking this was all a dream. 

Lawrence tugged at her hand, and Anja couldn't stop the annoyance from showing on her face.

"Lawrence," she said, her eyes still closed, "I just told you. You're a distraction." 

"Look at me, Anja! For God's sake, open your eyes and look at me!" 

Anja did not move, trying her best to ignore Lawrence. They were both silent, for a while, and then she spoke. 

"I'm going back inside. Don't come and wake me up again." She opened her eyes, then, but only so that she could see well enough to turn away from him, shrugging him off as he caught her arm. 

"You're never going to be like your sister, Anja." Lawrence spoke quietly, and yet his words still burned against Anja's skin like he'd raised the fires of Hell just to set them on her. She stopped walking abruptly, her body trembling. 

"Shut up," said Anja, almost too quiet for Lawrence to hear. "Shut up. Please."

"It's true, and you know it," Lawrence told her, his features softening. "But that doesn't matter. You don't have to be a genius, Anja. You don't have to be the best."

"I'm not the best. My sister is."

"And you don't have to be anything like your sister. You could be the thickest dumb-ass slut whore in the school, and I'd probably still love you."

"That's so cheesy."

Lawrence grinned. "Yeah. But it's true." He walked towards her, his expression sincere and his words just as genuine. "Don't - please - don't break up with me, Anja. I'm one of the only people stopping you from drowning yourself constantly in revision you don't even need to do." 

"Lawrence..." Anja's fingers twined around the rose behind her ear and pulled it to sit in her palms, fiddling with its petals in agitation. She bit her lip, her eyes welling up as she looked at the stars, the sky, the ground - anywhere but Lawrence. 

"I'm sorry," she said to him, her voice stiffly apologetic. "I'm really sorry, Lawrence. But you are a distraction, and I...I just don't think I can do this anymore." 

In a lurching, angry motion, Anja pulled the rose head from the stem and flung it to the ground at her feet. "And," she said, as she turned around to walk back into her house, "I'm not going to accept gifts from you either. So please don't come round here with pebbles and roses again." 

She looked back, her eyes meeting Lawrence's. "If you come again, I'll get my dad to call the police," she said. He knew that she wouldn't - she knew it was just a warning, a way to get him to a stay away - but it was the fact that she'd told him she would that made a Lawrence cave in on himself in the middle of her street, his shoulders sagging forwards. 

When he looked up again, Anja had disappeared inside her house. Lawrence stooped down to pick up the rose head, his fingers clumsy and shaking unsteadily. He decided, finally, to leave it in the street, to let it serve as a reminder to Anja. 

After he was home, in the morning, it rained like they hadn't seen in weeks. The rose head wilted till the flower seemed unrecognisable, and someone trod on it whilst out walking her dog. 

Although she never saw Lawrence's rose head again, every time Anja smelt the scent of roses, their sweet odour came with a cloud of regret. 

She missed Lawrence, and she knew she'd hurt him. She knew it wasn't his fault and that he hadn't deserved to be dumped over text. And yet, she thought, it couldn't be helped.

After all, Lawrence had been a distraction. 

 

 

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